Jill took the picture:
Jen Echo and I wrote the story:
The place is the Powerhouse Gym on Michigan Avenue, in Chicago, that windiest of Windy Cities. The time is five minutes from NOW.
Franklin Delano Mustache had just finished working out, a little running on the NordicTrack, a little dipping in the pool, and he was toweling himself down following a locker room shower when his gaze lingered, a little too long, on a fellow fitness enthusiast. The FEE wasn’t fazed by the stare, he was used to it by now; he was buff, he was tan, he was a good-looking man. It was the way Mr. Mustache licked his, well, mustache, that made him bristle. The FEE glared at MM and moved to another corner of the locker room.
Mr. Mustache sighed. Not everyday is your day, he thought to himself. He hastily gathered his things, tucked in his shirt, and headed outside for the train.
Walking to the red line, Mr. Mustache’s march was interrupted by exiting wedding receptors, happily leaving a nearby church. They left joy, confetti, and a disposable camera in their wake. Mr. Mustache, being one part frugal and two parts curious, picked up the camera, intent on spending the remaining shots if only to see what was captured before.
He continued to the train. The swoosh of the train doors blew a breeze against his exposed leg hairs,, thus reminding him of his state of almost-undress—Mr. Mustache had forgotten to change out of his workout shorts. This tiny, yet drastic, change in his everyday dress sent his mind reeling. Mr. Mustache was a mustache man, to be sure, but he was also solidly a pants man. It was not like him to be found naked from the thighs to the ankles. Being so, half-dressed, on a public transport train, with a half-used camera that wasn’t really his, with a locker room fantasy still on his mind . . . he felt freer, freest, free!
On any other day he might have spent the remaining shots of the camera on squirrels or trees or bowls of fruit. But today, he was someone else, someone new, someone daring. Though not invisible, he was certainly in disguise, free to behave in ways he normally would not. He looked around at his fellow passengers, all beautiful people, traveling who-knew-where on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. He snapped a photograph of a pretty girl, he smiled and winked at her. She laughed, and snapped a picture right back.
The train pulled into the Belmont station and his mind cannot stop the whir-click-working at the possibilities that might await him in the busy street below. He fought his way through the crowd, taking a few more photographs of smiles and uneasy glances, squeezed his way past fellow travelers and fellow lovers of the world. He gave them a nod and an arch of his eyebrows, and they tipped their caps right back. Adventure was before him and his pants were far, far behind.
Through the turnstile and onto the sidewalk, Mr. Mustache looked down to admire his impressive shorts. GASP! He lifted the billow of his shirt to take a self-portrait from the waist down. He stroked his ‘stache with self-satisfaction and proceeded down Belmont with a gait so light some might say he was skipping. With each block east he felt less conspicuous and a little sassier. Click, advance, click, advance, so many pretty things, the least of which was he. He was late for a rendezvous at Stella’s with a hunk of a man who adored Mr. Mustache’s Canadian status.
But first thing’s first, thought Mr.—no, no, Monsieur Mustache, and he made a sudden right into an overpriced studio on Barry. He had three shots left in his camera and an itch that needed scratchin’.
Mssr. Mustache stepped into the studio, the sunlight framing him from behind. Lawrence was working the studio today after taking three weeks off for a full-body wax. He was smooth, he was slippery, he was ready to wriggle into MM’s life.
“Everybody out,” Lawrence said. “We’re closing early today.”
MM winked, and a slow smile crept over his face.
Twenty minutes later, MM stepped back into the sun, relaxed and with a fresh camera in his hands. Maybe he would come back in an hour to pick up the developed film; maybe he would follow the sun and keep on traveling. He had to get to Stella’s, after all, to prove he was from the Great White North.
A skate rat teen sped by, sneering into his headphones, and MM spun around, karate-chopping the melancholy youth in-between the shoulder blades. The rat fell to the sidewalk and MM hopped onto his skateboard, tossing him a grin in return. MM dash-dash-dashed away, and he was fast-fast-fast. The rat looked up, upset at first, and understandably so; but who could stay angry in the face of such a delightful get-away bum? The rat couldn’t help but smile and give Monsieur the thumb’s up.
MM sped on, wishing only that spandex had pockets so that he might find a roll of Mentos (The Fresh Maker!) to prepare for his meeting. He thought of the ad that had brought him speeding this way in the first place:
SWGM seeking French Canadian to lament the new DeGrassi High and revere the old, to cheer the Leafs, to recite fave Kids skits and hum the theme. To debate the merits of Ted Koppel and to contemplate how Mounties are different from Troopers. Are you him? Call me.
Was there anyone more fitting than Mssr. Mustache himself? Certainly not!
Ditching the skateboard, MM walked into Stella’s and immediately saw trouble. Decked in acid-washed short-shorts and a Bryan Adams tee, SWGM was flapping his arms wildly from a table near the kitchen.
Surely everyone deserves at least one chance, thought MM.
“L’agenouillement vers le bas avant moi et sucent mon penis,” said his would-be suitor.
It was clear to MM that SWGM had simply stumbled upon an internet language translator and hoped it would be enough to fool a true French-Canadian.
What a disappointment, thought MM.
All the same, MM smiled and settled in for a drink. He lived up to MM’s expectations, but could climb no higher. The discussed DeGrassi, the Kids, and Ted Koppel’s piece; but it was dry and lifeless, lacking the sweat and vitality implied in the late-night IM conversations that had preceded their face-to-face. The night seemed to be heading where so many had before: plenty of liquor, lights-off man-groping, and a changed screen name in the morning.
Maybe for the old MM, he thought. But this time, things are different.
The good Monsieur excused himself to the washroom, smiling politely and declining the Fake French-Canadian’s offer to join him. MM wasted no time in wriggling out of the bathroom window and lowering himself to the alley below. He was dusting himself off when he heard a strong, deep voice from the street.
“What’s this? Skipping out on the bill?”
MM looked to the gaping mouth of the alley and saw a magnificent beast; well, two. A police officer mounted on horseback, both with rippling muscles hidden under brown fur. The cop’s chest hair burst in a triangle from the neck of his shirt, his thick arms covered in more hair than Robin Williams. The cop had a mustache too, one to rival MM’s own, one that hid his upper lip and tickled his lower.
I wonder what else that mustache has tickled, thought MM.
MM scanned the alley and found his reflection in the shards of a broken mirror. Not looking for a repeat of his locker room disappointment, MM made certain his face did not betray his own desire to be tickled.
“Well, what’s the story?” demanded the officer, dismounting and entering the alley himself.
MM curled his toes tightly in his shoes, concentrating on their tightening and not the officer’s luscious ‘stache. “Officer, this is not what it seems.”
“Oh,” said the officer. “Really?” The officer stepped closer, leaving MM quite literally between a rock and a hard place.
“No sir,” said MM. “My only debt is to karma, as I must have done something awful to have a blind date with some do-it-yourself French dude with a Canadian jones. Leave through the front door, he might follow; leave through the back, I start with a clean karma slate.”
MM closed his eyes. The officer stepped closer and MM’s toes curled tighter. MM was sure his face was being tickled by a triangle of angelic hair. The shattered mirror was no longer in view, but MM found himself wetting his own mustache and he knew his face must have by now betrayed his thoughts. He blinked his eyes quickly open and the cop was there, he was oh-so-right-there, smiling and nodding, with a hand on his nightstick.
MM closed his eyes again; the mystery sparkles danced on his eyelids and the butterflies tingled in his stomach. He heard a throbbing, he felt it, in his tummy. It moved up past his heart (through his heart), into his throat, filling up his brain. It moved down, too, into his toes, making them uncurl, making them wiggle and giggle and tap. The sparkles behind his eyes grew brighter, moved faster, and his knees grew weak and became liquid. He fell backwards, panicking but unable to open his eyes, and he was afraid he would crack his skull against the brick wall. But he didn’t crack his skull against the brick wall. He fell backwards and he swirled around the air rushed this way and that and the throbbing grew stronger and he could fee the rhythm beneath the soles of his feet, beneath the soul of himself. The bass throbbed, and the hi-hat opened, and the synth broke glass, and the guitar, oh my god, that guitar sang and shook the whole world down.
Mssr. Mustache opened his eyes and the cop was before him, whirling and twirling fist over fist, wearing tiny shorts that bulged in the middle, with hairy legs and bulky black boots, a tight, tight blue shirt, mirrored sunglasses and a shiny white helmet. The lights were dim and rainbow and fog drifted from he didn’t know where, and the air was heavy with sweat and lust and danger and fever. The space was crowded with men who were dancing and shaking their hips and smiling and clapping to the beat. Mssr. Mustache smiled too and he gave in to the rhythm, gave in to the fun and to the unknown of it all, and he clapped his hands and he clapped the cop’s hands, and he thanked himself for getting on that train, for climbing out of that window, and for closing his eyes, and for opening them again and for hearing that music.
He smiled and he laughed and he clapped his hands again. He shook his hips and he shook his ass and he wiggled his toes some more. He spun and he danced, and he danced, and he danced all night.